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Iowa/Illinois Young Birder Weekend

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In addition to the News Posts below, we also send a periodic eNewsletter.  You can view our newsletter archive here and you can sign up to receive future emails at the bottom of this page. 

  • September 20, 2021 10:58 AM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    On September 11, 2021, 12 young birders and parents joined us for a visit to Emma McCarthy Lee Park in Ames to experience fall migration and search for some other nesting residents unique to this large, contiguous forest area in the middle of Ames. It was a great morning for birding, as demonstrated by the calling Red-breasted Nuthatch that sent us scrambling away from the parking lot even before our introductions. This Red-breasted Nuthatch was one of four we either saw or heard in the park throughout the morning. It was a fantastic start to a fantastic morning.

    While hiking down the hill to the lower portion of the park, a Hairy Woodpecker perched on the top of a snag climbing above the canopy, a great opportunity to view this bird and learn about the subtle differences between it and its smaller cousin the Downy Woodpecker. White-breasted Nuthatches calling along the trail as well as we paused to admire a Paper Wasp hive and a couple of impressive puffball mushrooms in the woods. Once in the lower portion of the park, we heard and saw some American Goldfinches and American Robins overhead as well as a Red-bellied Woodpecker and Northern Flicker.

    We started down a trail with hopes of finding some fall migrants and we were not disappointed. We found a great flurry of bird activity that started with great views of a Northern Parula, one of the few warbler species that nest in Iowa and in the park. We were then treated to great views of a very cooperative Blue-headed Vireo, who perched head-high on a branch approximately 15 feet in front of us. Young birder Noah spotted a Magnolia Warbler in fall plumage skulky through the shrubs, who was later joined by a Nashville Warbler, and at least three different Black-and-White Warblers were gleaning insects from various trees around us. A Brown Thrasher perched high in the canopy was a nice surprise and an unexpected location for this species, and a steady stream of migrating Common Nighthawks (42 birds total) were gliding south above the canopy. 

    Further along the trail we heard a Cooper’s Hawk laughing from the trees and flushed a Barred Owl, who perched up in a tree for all young birders to see before disappearing into the forest. We also paused to view an Ovenbird silently foraging on the forest floor thanks to the keen eyes of young birder parent Ulrike. We later heard an Eastern Wood-Pewee calling from deep in the forest. We were entertained by Northern Cardinals on our hike back to the car and closed the morning with a soaring Turkey Vulture overhead, our only raptor species for the morning.

    Many thanks to the young birders and parents for joining us for this fun morning! And thanks to young birder parent Ulrike Grimaldi for keeping our species list.

    View photos from our morning here and a species list here.

  • September 20, 2021 10:48 AM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    On a gorgeous late-summer morning, 17 young birders, parents, and supporters joined us for a hike through Greenwood-Ashworth Park, a premier central Iowa birding locale nested in the heart of Des Moines. After a one-year hiatus in our field trip schedule due to the global pandemic, we were all excited to be in the field and birding together again. Our target for the morning was the Mississippi Kite, a small raptor that forages mostly on flying insects and is known to nest in only two locations in Iowa: Des Moines (around Greenwood-Ashworth Park) and Ottumwa. Though the kite was our target, we were excited to see what other birds we could find!

    Upon embarking up the road to the main portion of the park, we were quickly greeted by the scolding calls of a Tufted Titmouse, an uncommon bird in central Iowa, as well as the broken, burry song of a Yellow-throated Vireo. We paused briefly to search for these birds among the dense canopy of leaves but were unsuccessful. While waiting, however, we did take the opportunity to learn a bit about plants as there were several native Gray Dogwood shrubs along the woodland edge that were full of berries. These berries are an important food source for birds in winter as other food sources disappear. We continued up the road to be treated to great views and a comical performance from a family group of Eastern Bluebirds; the young birds were learning how to hawk for insects and were still a bit clumsy.

    After a brief stop to view a pair of female Mallards on the pond, we continued along the trail. We saw a Mourning Dove on the trail as well as a few American Robins low in the trees. We even stopped to view an interesting gathering of wasp-like insects at the base of a tree, later identified as Bald-faced Hornets (thanks to our friend James Baggett for the ID assistance). A bit further along the trail we stopped to search for a singing Indigo Bunting high in the treetop and were excited to find a flurry of bird activity. Gray Catbirds were flitting around in a small shrub in front of us, an Eastern Wood-Pewee was singing in the distance, and we later saw a female Baltimore Oriole and male Northern Cardinal. Just before moving along, a young birder spotted an Osprey flying high over the park likely en route to somewhere with warmer temperatures in winter. We spent 45 minutes in this one spot!

    We continued around the pond and back towards the vehicles. Though we did not find a Mississippi Kite, we were excited to close the morning with great views of a Broad-winged Hawk soaring over the park, another likely nesting resident. 

    Many thanks to the young birders, parents, and supporters who joined us for our first field trip in more than a year! We’re also grateful for the local knowledge of young birder Leo Gaukel and supporter James Baggett, both of whom spend a lot of time birding in the park.

    Click here to view photos from our trip and see our species list here.

  • May 02, 2021 7:40 PM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    Celebrate migratory birds with us in May and show off your unique, artistic abilities by participating in our Coloring Contest! All kids ages 1-18 years old are eligible to participate. Below are guidelines for the contest:

    • Coloring pages will be provided. You can pick them up at Wild Birds Unlimited in Ames (213 Duff Avenue) or can download and print them below. You can also email us (tyler@iowayoungbirders.org) to request a coloring page by email or conventional mail

    To download the coloring page for ages 1-10, click here

    To download the coloring page for ages 11-18, click here

    • All artistic media are allowed (e.g., crayons, colored pencils, paints)

    • Each child is allowed to submit one entry

    • Each entry must include the child’s name, age, and contact information for a parent or guardian

    • Entries must be dropped off at or mailed to Wild Birds Unlimited in Ames (213 Duff Avenue) by May 31, 2021. All entries will be displayed at the WBU store.

    • Entries will be judged on neatness and creativity in the following age groups: 1-5 years old, 6-10 years old, 11-15 years old, and 16 years old or older

    Prizes will be awarded to the best three pages in each age group, and those awarded a prize in each age group will be entered into a drawing for a brand new pair of Vortex Diamondback 8x28 binoculars!

    Thanks to our friends at Wild Birds Unlimited in Ames for co-sponsoring this fun event!

  • April 16, 2021 8:34 PM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    World Migratory Bird Day is May 8, 2021 - save the date to join folks across Iowa and the world to celebrate our migratory marvels! Below is a list of local events happening across the state. Enjoy a spring day of birding with friends!

    • Big Bluestem Audubon Society Annual Bird-a-thon (Ames; contact Eric Ollie for details)
    • Bird hike at Crooked Bend with Story County Conservation (Ames; click here for details)
    • Loess Hills Audubon Society Annual Bird-a-thon (Sioux City; contact Bill Huser for details)
    • Building Better Birders and Citizen Science workshops at the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center (Sioux City; visit their events calendar for more information)
    • Iowa City Bird Club Annual Spring Migration Count (click here for details)
    • Birds and Brew - join Fayette County Conservation for a free cup of coffee and family-friendly bird hike at Echo Valley State Park (West Union; click here for details)
    • Saylorville Reservoir field trip with Des Moines Audubon (Des Moines; meet at the Saylorville Visitor Center at 8:00 AM)
    • World Migratory Bird Day celebration in Marion (Thomas Park from 12-3 PM)

    Know about an event happening hear you? Contact us to add it to our list! Click here to learn more about World Migratory Bird Day.

  • January 25, 2021 6:21 PM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    From June - August 2020, 170 young birders participated in our first Summer Birding Program. View photos from last summer shared by young birders and their families here, and click the link below for a short report on the success of the program as measured through a follow-up survey. 

    Summer Birding Program Report_2021.pdf

  • April 16, 2020 7:33 AM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    Meet Fawn Bowden, newly-elected Chair of our Board of Directors, long-time volunteer leader, and mother of two young birders!  

    Current town:  Riverside, Iowa

    Hometown:  Wyoming, Minnesota

    Fawn with her daughter, Mieka, viewing Sandhill Cranes from the blind at Rowe Audubon Sanctuary on our IAYB weekend trip to Kearney, Nebraska, March 2015.

    What sparked your interest in birds/nature?

    My father and grandmother were/are both bird and nature lovers.  My grandmother always had bird feeders up and filled and knew all about each bird that came to them.  I'll never forget the first time she showed me a Crossbill that was at her feeder (she lived in NW Wisconsin) and that its beak was crooked like that on purpose.  I also thought it was amazing that she seemed to have conversations with the chickadees, as they would always answer her calls.

    What is your favorite bird?

    That's a hard question, there are so many!  Probably the Common Loon for it's beautiful call and plumage and because it's the state bird of my home state of Minnesota.  The babies are adorable too.  Also any sort of owl.  They're often hard to find, so it seems special when you do see or hear one.

    What is your favorite birding/outdoor space?

    I've been exploring a new place each week with the kids during the stay-at-home precautions during the Covid-19 pandemic, so I think I may have a few new favorite places now! Pike Run Wildlife Area in Muscatine is pretty neat with some lowland woods and wetlands.  Clemmons Creek Wildlife and Recreation Area in Washington County has pristine woodlands, prairie and also wetlands.  Maskunky Marsh in Mahaska County can be a really good spot for shorebirds, if the water levels are low enough.  Of course Cone Marsh is great and we live about 25 minutes away, so I do go there quite a bit.

    Do you have young birders in your family?

    Yes, two, Mieka, 12 and Henry, 11.  Their desire to learn about birds ebbs and flows as other interests and activities come into their lives, but I'm hoping that they'll keep coming back to it with fondness as time/life permits.

    Do you remember your first Iowa Young Birders field trip?

    Yes!  Mieka and I both remember it very well.  It was to George Wyth SP to see Saw Whet Owls and see them we did.

    What has been your favorite Iowa Young Birders field trip thus far?

    It's hard to pick one, but the Saw Whet Owl trip and the Sandhill crane trip to Nebraska were favorites.

    What motivated you to become a Iowa Young Birders Board Member?

    I think it's important to support the things you believe in.

    Why do you feel exposing kids to birds and nature is important?

    So they can come to know, hopefully enjoy and value the natural world.  If they know it and love it, they will want to protect it and care for it.  Plus, it's important for them to know that humans and nature are interconnected and interdependent.

  • April 13, 2020 9:00 AM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    Iowa Young Birders recently received a $4,000 donation in memory of the late Don Sievers, lifelong Iowa birder and outdoor educator for the Department of Natural Resources at the Springbrook Conservation Education Center. The award was presented to Iowa Young Birders by Don's children, Shelby VanNordstrand, Chris Sievers, and Ashley Sievers, to honor their dad by helping educate young Iowans about the beautiful birds our state has to offer. 

    "We are extremely humbled by and grateful for this generous gift", said Executive Director Tyler Harms. "We are honored to continue Don's legacy of outdoor education and respect for nature through our programs".

    You can read more about Don below, including some of his favorite birding spots, in a note provided by his children, Shelby, Chris, and Ashley.

    The children of Don Sievers are pleased to present this memorial gift of $4,000 to Iowa Young Birders.  There is no better way to honor our Dad than by helping this organization educate young Iowans about the beautiful birds this state has to offer.  Our wish is for these youth to grow up in Iowa with the same appreciation and respect for nature that our dad instilled in us.  We cherish these lessons as we pass them on to our own children with help from the available programs and events that Iowa Young Birders offers.

    Whether it was banding birds at Springbrook Conservation Education Center or driving around the Greene county countryside, our dad was at peace outdoors.  He enjoyed the simple things in life; a cup of coffee and pair of binoculars always within reach.  His passion for the outdoors was only matched by his desire to spread nature’s offerings to others.

    Many donations from friends and family have made this gift possible.  We trust that these gifts will provide great opportunities for Iowa’s youth and encourage all to spend more time outdoors with family.


    Shelby VanNordstrand

    Chris Sievers

    Ashley Sievers

    Don lost his battle with pancreatic cancer over 3 years ago.  He and his late wife, Suzanne, raised their family in Jefferson.  He worked for the Iowa DNR for 34 years at Springbrook Conservation Education Center.

    Please check out some of Don’s favorite birding spots in Greene and Guthrie counties: Goose Lake, Dunbar Slough, Finn Pond, Springbrook State Park, McMahon Access, Henderson Park

  • April 09, 2020 3:56 PM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    Did you know you can use eBird to track the spring migration of your favorite migratory bird? Follow the simple steps below to see where different species are being seen in North America!

    First, navigate to the eBird homepage by clicking here.

    Next, click the "Explore" button as shown in the image below:

    Then, click the "Species Map" link as shown below:

    Once the map appears, type the name of your favorite species and select it from the drop-down box once it appears. Below, we use the Ruby-throated Hummingbird as an example:

    When you select your species, purple boxes should appear on the map. This shows the entire range for which the species has been seen in all years. To see only where the species has been seen so far this spring, select the "Year-Round, All Years" box as shown below. Then, click the "Mar-May" button and the "Current Year" button illustrated below:

    And you're done! Below is our map of where Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are currently being seen!

    And here is another example map for Lesser Yellowlegs, a shorebird that migrates through Iowa each spring and fall (they're already here!):

    You can repeat the above steps for any species and any time of year in which you are interested. You can even restrict your search to Iowa by specifying "Iowa" in the upper-right box in the above map.

    Have fun exploring, and thanks to Team eBird for providing this great tool for us!

  • March 01, 2020 7:40 PM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    On February 7, 2020, 13 young birders, parents, and grandparents joined us in Duluth, Minnesota for our second Northern Minnesota Weekend trip.  The mild weather resulted in much better travel conditions than last year, allowing us to arrive in Duluth on Friday afternoon with time for an evening visit to Sax-Zim Bog, our target location.  Before heading north, we met for a brief welcome and introduction to our weekend. The excitement for Boreal birds was building, however, so we kept the welcome brief and loaded our van (the Snowshoe Hare), to head north!

    Photo credit:  Heidi Walz

    After about 45 minutes, we entered the south side of the Bog, an interesting habitat consisting of spruce-tamarack bog areas intermixed with shrubby, wet meadow areas.  We immediately commenced our search for owls and were quickly rewarded with one of our target birds, a Northern Hawk Owl, on the east side of the Bog perched high in a spruce tree.  The bird was extremely cooperative, posing nicely for photos and close looks through spotting scopes. Saying goodbye to the Northern Hawk Owl, we headed towards the Admiral Road feeders to await the arrival of the Boreal Owl that had been consistently seen for the prior week.  However, after only ten minutes, we received word of a Great Gray Owl at another area in the Bog. We quickly loaded the van and headed that way but were just too late. The disappointment of missing the Great Gray Owl didn’t last long, however, because we were diverted back to the Admiral Road feeders because the Boreal Owl had appeared.  We arrived just as the sun was setting, but the Boreal Owl was still present and extremely cooperative! Everyone was able to see the owl through spotting scopes as the daylight rapidly disappeared. What a great end to our first day!

    We arose bright and early Saturday morning for a quick breakfast at the hotel before loading the van for a 6:30 AM departure to the Bog.  Our first stop - the Racek feeders to view Sharp-tailed Grouse that fly over from the nearby lek for their breakfast each morning. We arrived at first light but the grouse had not yet arrived.  We waited excitedly in the van, spotting the occasional Black-capped Chickadee and Downy Woodpecker visiting the feeders and were treated to a Red-breasted Nuthatch that landed on the road ahead of the van.  Our patience paid off, and after waiting just shy of an hour, three Sharp-tailed Grouse landed in the top of the tree immediately beside the van, so high that some of us were unable to see them. Soon after, however, one of the grouse flew down to ground under the feeders for his or her breakfast.  Our first stop was a success!

    After viewing the grouse, we stopped by the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog Visitor’s Center to see what was visiting the bird feeders.  We added Canada Jay at this location as well as more Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches. However, the most entertaining observation was the local Red Squirrels!  These quick and feisty critters were constantly stealing from the bird feeders and it was fun to watch their acrobatics as they jumped from tree to feeder and back.

    Next, we made our way to Mary Lou’s feeders, a regular location for Evening Grosbeaks.  Upon our arrival, we immediately spotted a pair of Evening Grosbeaks at one of the feeders near the road.  We exited the van and joined the many other birders enjoying these vibrant yellow finches (yes, although it has “grosbeak” in its name, the Evening Grosbeak actually belongs to the finch family).  Also frequenting Mary Lou’s feeders were numerous Hairy Woodpeckers, the occasional Downy Woodpecker, and few Black-capped Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches.

    After about 30 minutes at Mary Lou’s feeders, we loaded the vans to warm up and make our way south Winterberry Bog.  A quick stop before lunch along County Road 7 on the east side of the Bog yielded our second Northern Hawk Owl for the trip as well as a distant group of both American Crows and Common Ravens, allowing for a nice comparison of these two similar species.  We then arrived at Winterberry Bog to search for both Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers. We were greeted by several other birders with the same idea, who all stated both woodpeckers were present and actively foraging a short hike into the dense sprue bog.  Excited, we started off down the narrow path in the snow. Listening intently for drumming as the snow crunched under our feet, we hiked for about five minutes before meeting other birders that were photographing a Black-backed Woodpecker high in a spruce tree. We waited patiently as the bird worked up and down different trees, voraciously removing bark with his beak in search for tree-burrowing insects.  After a short time, the bird was nearly on top of us, showering us with spruce bark and allowing for fantastic views! We started our hike back to the van with hopes of encountering an American Three-toed Woodpecker. Lucky for us, young birder June spotted one hidden among the dense spruce branches. What a cool bird!

    Lunch time!  We stopped again at the Wilbert Cafe in Cotton for a delicious meal and our fill of coffee and hot chocolate, just the energy boost we needed to continue our search for owls in the afternoon. We started back down County Road 7 as this road seemed to be the place to see owls this year.  Not far down the road, we stopped to look at a Northern Shrike. While doing so, volunteer leader Kevin found a distant Snowy Owl perched high in a tree, a new bird for our trip! Everyone had great looks through the spotting scopes before loading the vans and continuing our search for owls. Much of our afternoon was spent searching for a Great Gray Owl along the roads throughout the Bog. We did stop again at the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog Visitor’s Center for a visit to the gift shop and were greeted again by the feisty Red Squirrels and a few Canada Jays. Additionally, we had great views of an adult Northern Goshawk that flew over the road just in front of the van. Thanks to young birder dad Paul for spotting this gorgeous bird for us! Unfortunately, our day of birding ended without a Great Gray Owl, but we saw several other fantastic birds and made some great memories along the way.

    On Sunday morning, we decided to visit Canal Park in Duluth to look for gulls and other waterbirds on the mighty Lake Superior. Once again, we were not disappointed by our decision. Among the many Ring-billed and Herring Gulls around the lake were at least five different Glaucous Gulls, all of which were close to shore and easily viewed through binoculars. Additionally, we spotted a distant Great Black-backed Gull on the lake, a life bird for nearly everyone on the trip. Finally, while exchanging farewells in the parking lot, we were treated to the show of two Peregrine Falcons chasing Rock Pigeons around the nearby buildings. An amazing finale to an amazing weekend!

    This trip would not have been possible without our young birder parents, who chauffeured their young birders to Duluth to join us and who graciously helped with spotting birds and other trip logistics along the way. We are extremely grateful to volunteer leader Kevin Murphy, who once again provided fantastic leadership, expert navigation around the Bog, and a contagious passion for birds and birding. Many thanks to Annalise Skrade, Paul Skrade, Heidi Walz, and Kathy Solko for helping capture the many great memories on this trip and for sharing photos with us, all of which you can view here.  And lastly, a huge thanks to Bobby Walz for diligently maintaining our eBird checklists throughout the weekend, which you can view below.

    Sax-Zim Bog - Admiral Road Feeders (2/7/2020)

    Sax-Zim Bog - Racek Feeders (2/8/2020)

    Sax-Zim Bog - Visitor's Center (2/8/2020)

    Sax-Zim Bog - Mary Lou's Feeders (2/8/2020)

    Sax-Zim Bog - County Road 7 (2/8/2020)

    Sax-Zim Bog - Winterberry Bog (2/8/2020)

    Sax-Zim Bog - Kolu and McDavitt Roads (2/8/2020)

    Duluth - Canal Park (2/9/2020)

  • November 19, 2019 4:13 PM | Tyler Harms (Administrator)

    The staging of migrating Tundra Swans on Pool 9 of the Mississippi River is an Iowa birding spectacle that many travel to see each fall.  On November 16, 2019, 10 young birders, parents, and grandparents traveled to Allamakee County to see these magnificent white birds along with other migrating waterbirds.  Armed with an information sheet outlining differences in key characteristics of the three species of swans we see in Iowa (Trumpeter, Tundra, and Mute), we set off down Red Oak Road on a gorgeous fall morning with spotting scopes in hand.

    Blue Jays and Black-capped Chickadees called to us as we strolled down the road in the warm morning sun, and Red-bellied, Hairy, and Downy Woodpeckers announced their presence while flying from tree to tree.  We stopped occasionally along the road to view waterfowl that found some open water among the ice sheets on the river - flocks of Canada Geese and Mallards along with an occasional small group of Common Goldeneye and Buffleheads.  We heard the swans before we saw them as we neared our vantage point, their high-pitched “hoo-hoo” echoing off the bluffs. The excitement was definitely building!

    We crested a small hill at which there was a gap in the trees along the road, offering us the perfect view of the river below.  From here, we enjoyed fantastic views of the nearly 300 Tundra Swans that were loafing and feeding on the river along with several Bald Eagles.  Flocks of migrating ducks were consistently flying down river. The challenge of trying to identify them on the wing and at a distance was quite fun!  We also had great looks at small groups of Common Goldeneyes and Buffleheads actively diving, and a duo of both American Wigeon and Canvasback were a treat.  Enjoying the fabulous weather, we watched the waterfowl for nearly 2 hours, breaking away from the spotting scopes occasionally to catch glimpses of a Bald Eagle overhead or a Black-capped Chickadee flitting through the branches of a nearby tree.

    As the sun went behind the clouds, we decided to head back to the cars and travel to the Driftless Area Education Center near Lansing to finish our morning.  Managed by the Allamakee County Conservation Board, this fantastic resource combines nature with the history of the Mississippi River in northeast Iowa. The hour spent here definitely sparked curiosity among our group!

    We’re grateful to Iowa birder Billy Reiter-Marolf from New Albin, who graciously scouted the area and provided us with valuable updates on access and local birds.  You can view photos from our morning here and our species list here.

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